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I've left academia for business some time ago. However, it occurred to me that I could publish some of my old final papers/ theses online as online books.

I have all the copyrights.

The theses are good and I could probably publish the most recent ones in "traditional" publishing houses, but with my new job, I don't really have time for several rounds of corrections and re-writing of old papers.

These are papers with implications for the practice and on topics "general public" may find interesting. What I mean in this post is, obviously, not "scientific publishing" online, but non-fiction publications directed at general public.

My goal is to earn a bit with the texts. I don't really need a list of publications for my current career, although it's never a bad thing to have some publications I guess, so if the publishing "channel" is not completely ridiculous it's even better.

Have you had any experience with self-publishing online? Does it make sense? Or is it useless work?

Edit I don't see much point in discussing whether the papers are interesting/ valuable/ up-to-date or not and I'm a bit surprised that this topic has been raised at all. (Because I would expect a bit more scepticism concerning making assumptions on details not mentioned in the initial post from academics). Instead, I would find it interesting to hear from someone who actually has had some experience with self-publishing their work/ academic work online. That's the point of my post.

  • What field is this? Many options for dissemination are specific to certain fields. This would also help give a sense of whether there is any chance of earning money with your writings. If there isn't, would you still be interested in having them publicly available for free? – Nate Eldredge Dec 20 '18 at 20:03
  • @NateEldredge: The field can be described in general terms as "Business and Social Sciences". – user91479 Dec 20 '18 at 20:13
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    I have a hard time imagining much of a commercial market for outdated research from a non-renowned individual without marketing support and when the individual doesn't have time to polish and correct what they have. – Bryan Krause Dec 20 '18 at 20:16
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    I think that "earning a bit with the texts" is probably unrealistic. If you want to do it for philanthropic reasons, sure, it makes them visible. But the problem with monetizing them is (a) how will people find you and (b) they probably don't want to pay anything if they do. Self publishing (for money) works, provided that everyone who would want the work already probably knows how to find you. – Buffy Dec 20 '18 at 20:16
  • Given the edit of non-fiction publications directed at general public, can you explain what this has to do with academia? – StrongBad Dec 20 '18 at 20:50
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My goal is to earn a bit with the texts

My understanding of book publishing is that making money is really hard, and even harder if you do not have the backing of an established publisher. Established publishers often have contracts with university libraries that guarantee them a minimum number of sales. They generally like authors who will then teach off the book which gives them some more sales. When the author convinces colleagues at other schools to teach with the book also, profits can be made. You do not seem to have that type of network, so I doubt you will make any money.

The hit rate of established publishers to actually turn a profit is pretty low. With their network and approach, their costs are generally covered such that a couple of successful books is all they need. This means they scoop up anything that even remotely has a chance of being profitable.

  • You are right, but your comments refer to typical scientific publishing. I wrote papers on topics many people outside academia find interesting. – user91479 Dec 20 '18 at 20:44
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    @BigMadAndy I think it applies to the humanities also. If you are asking about non-academic books for non-academic audiences, this is probably not the place to ask. – StrongBad Dec 20 '18 at 20:48
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    I am one of five authors of a textbook in the computer sciences, now obsolescent and out of print. My share of the royalties over the life of the book did not reach four figures. – Bob Brown Dec 21 '18 at 0:37
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If your aim is to make money, you'll need to put effort into it. You can't just put your papers online and charge people money to read it - nobody will buy. You need to format it, make a book cover, get it indexed by e.g. the British Library, advertise it, etc. This isn't trivial and is a large part of why people engage publishers to publish books. It should be said though that even though the publisher will handle most of these things, there will still be things you need to do as an author. You can't just hand the manuscript to the publisher and collect the royalties; you must be prepared to invest some time.

If you're still interested in doing this, then I'd suggest contacting a publisher. You'll need to fill out a publication proposal form, where you give details about what your book is about, your qualifications, the intended market, why your book is relevant, and so on. If the publisher approves your proposal then you're gold, and they'll tell you what you need to do.

Finally: even if the publisher agrees to publish your book, unless you are famous, the chances of it selling more than ~1000 copies is very low. This is the case even though your target is the general public. As an order of magnitude, you might get ~10% of net sales receipts as royalties. It's up to you to decide if it's worth it.

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I had an experience with Glasstree: a company that describes itself as a publisher but that is little more than a printer. I used it for getting good quality copies of a text of 120 pages (in A4 format) at a cost of 7 dollars. That price was the minimum allowed and the money went to Glasstree, but I could have chosen a higher price and pocketed the difference. The text is for sale to the public, but I was the only one to buy it as far as I know. (I gave away the copies to students and colleagues.)

You may try to use Glasstree as a publisher and earn some money, but you would have to do the advertising work that real publishers do, and that Glasstree doesn't. I wonder whether that could work.

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